Monthly Archives: November 2010

Free Time in NOÖ 12

NOÖ 12 just came out, featuring a Fun Camp short called Free Time. Also in the issue are reviews & proses & poems by a bunch of people I like. Luke Bloomfield’s the finest disc golfer I know (personally, that is–There’s a league of all-deaf Northamptonites that’d give him a run for his putter). Mike Young is the author of 3 of the 8 songs my wife and sang in our living room last night. Sean Rosenberg! Why didn’t I try yoga the three years I had Lily Ladewig around? Zack Sternwalker wrote a funny unhinged book on my shelf. I particularly like Running the Drain by Keyhole 10’s own Brian Allen Carr. You could read it or you could not read it or you could see if there’s comments and move on.

My own camps growing up were all heavily scheduled, but traditionally featured a three-hour block of free time in the afternoon. It felt weird to be so regimented and then not. Wait: Free time? But what am I supposed to do with it? “Freedom!” the space ants cry when Homer bumps their glass cage broken. “Horrible, horrible freedom!”  I’d usually go to the pool or go play ping pong or go work on skits.

During my first months in TN I had an extremely demanding job. I spent my free time thinking of ways to do my job better. My job calmed and I’ve been gifted/confronted with more free time. OK, friends, ready to hang out now! OK, new big writing project, I’m ready to be absorbed. “And that’s adulthood, kids,” a counselor announces in another FC short, this time referring to our wonderful capacity for forgetting the math we don’t use. “An endless string of summers full of sweet choice. It’s as fun as it sounds and it’s never terrifying, not if you’re smart about it.”

Keyhole 10 Available for Pre-Order

Now available for pre-order: Keyhole 10!

Keyhole 10 is fiction and poetry by James Tadd Adcox, Chris Bachelder, Brian Allen Carr, Robert Casella, Ben Loory, Dan Magers, Sarah Norek, Rob Talbert, Tom Whalen, Mike Young, and Leni Zumas.

The issue features stories and poems from several forthcoming books, including White-Collar Worker: I Am Destiny by Dan Magers (forthcoming from H_NGM_N), Short Bus by Brian Allen Carr (forthcoming from Texas Review Press), Look! Look! Feathers! by Mike Young (forthcoming from Word Riot) and Abbott Awaits by Chris Bachelder (forthcoming from LSU Press).

Hey, speaking of H_NGM_AN: Kelin Loe’s poem plays are a lot of fun. So’s this poem by Amy McDaniel.

Ben Loory, Robert Casella, and Tom Whalen also have books coming out soon. (Also, somebody really ought to put out Tom Whalen’s The President in Her Towers.) And Leni Zumas’s terrific collection, Farewell, Navigator, is available from Open City Books. Last Christmas, I did the HTMLGIANT gift exchange and ordered Zumas’s book for  my person. (The dude who drew my name sent me his own book. Oh well.)

Publisher’s Weekly singles out Mike Young’s Keyhole story in their review of his forthcoming collection, Look, Look, Feathers: “Young hits the mark in this smart, quirky debut collection, where base humanity–like the macho behavior of a high school gym teacher who is revealed to have only one testicle in “The World Doesn’t Smell Like You”–is juxtaposed against a crushing swell of technology and pop culture.”

Thanks to Peter Cole, Christy Cruthfield, Brian Mihok, Nick Kocz, and Molly Gaudry for working to make the issue happen. (Molly’s gone off to work on other stuff, but she read a bunch for us and helped discover Sarah Norek’s fantastic story, “Pet,” before she left.) And thanks to Matt Bell, Jason Jordan, and everybody else who is helping get the word out.

Funny to think Keyhole 9 was the one I was in. The lag between 10 & 11 will be shorter, I promise. Keyhole 11 will be shorter, too. More on that later. Now reading submissions. In case it helps, I filled out the editor interview questionnaire at Duotrope.

Incredulous America (Part Four)

Culled from the web. Unedited for spelling, grammar, syntax, or taste.

How come nobody’s mentioned the antibiotics and steroids in milk and the possible harm from that?

How come nobody mentioned those damn scorpion fuckers, especially scary where your in the zero gravity room having to float on that huge ball as those rings move around it and not hearing one of those float up behind you only to stab you

How come nobody’s mentioned the new Linkin Park song? It’s undeniably their worst one yet. It’s so fucking… EPIC!

Okay, how come nobody mentioned Dan? Because Dan is the man!!!!!

Speaking of the U.S. how come nobody mentioned new mexico and the u.s virgins islands?

How come nobody’s mentioned Dogma?

But how come nobody mentioned Jagger and Richards. Y’all got beef with The Stones?

how come nobody mentioned ‘Sign on the Cross’ from the genuine basement tapes?

How come nobody mentioned the obvious? How is this ‘The Karate Kid’ If he’s using Kung Fu?

How come nobody’s mentioned how her nipples point forward and not at the ground like regular boobs? They’re crazy!

how come nobody mentioned the 1997 finals game 5? michael jordan score 38 points to bring it back to chicago 3-2; all with the FLU!!

How come nobody mentioned “Dog racing”? Is it already banned?

Er…how come nobody mentioned the possibility of NO dark matter?

how come nobody mentioned guacamole? :)

Now, how come nobody’s mentioned the most annoying thing about her: her piercing, whining, nasally VOICE!

How come nobody mentioned the Tunnel of Love :-) . I took girfriends there in the ’50s.

How come nobody mentioned R2 D2 and C3PO?

How come nobody’s mentioned Kenny Chesney yet?

Hey, how come nobody’s mentioned Paint? Isn’t that a good program?

And how come nobody’s mentioned the incredibly fake-looking Rose McGowan (cat-flap girl in Scream)? Celestial-being.

How come nobody mentioned Alien? or Aliens (Alien 3 wasn’t as good). Surely these films are the most apparent manifestation of design and belief in the vision of the artist.

How come nobody mentioned the push Christina gave Owen in the back?

How come nobody’s mentioned that Eazy E’s daughter sucks. That song is pure garbage, even if it is heartfelt.

How come nobody mentioned so far the early drawings of the sphinx made by Vivant Denon.

How come nobody mentioned the multilingual user interface (MUI) yet?

How come nobody mentioned those toffee candies with the Halloween wrapping? So gross! And I love butterfinger.

How come nobody mentioned the gym? Helloooo!!!!

By the way, how come nobody mentioned Barthez, really the most famous of all baldy goalies?

How come nobody mentioned “How High” or “Half-Baked” yet? Come on… and you call yourselves stoners.

By the way, how come nobody mentioned “He-Man”?

And how come nobody mentioned Mark, Matthew, Luke or John until the year 150 AD. It’s as if they NEVER EXISTED before that time.

How come nobody mentioned that Ryan is obviously wanking off when the camera zooms in a little on him?

How come nobody mentioned grapes? GRAPES! Grow Grapes!!

Seriously, how come nobody mentioned the Swiss already? The were essentially equipped with farming tools and look how devestating they were.

How come nobody’s mentioned the ‘fuck’ scene in series one (ep 4)?

And how come nobody mentioned that fact that we’re now clearly in the last throes?

How come nobody mentioned Keanu yet?

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NOÖ Version of my Robison Post

There’s a revised & expanded version of my blog post on James Robison’s The Illustrator over at the NOÖ Journal blog.

I’m reading THIS FRIDAY in Atlanta.

Thanks to Amy McDaniel and Jamie Iredell for inviting me to read this Friday alongside my friend Todd Dills and man of mystery Andy Devine as part of the esteemed Solar Anus Reading Series.

Beep Beep Gallery (696 Charles Allen Drive) * 11/5/10 * 8pm

If you come, I promise to bring it.

More info here.

The Case for Cake

I was a Cake fan at twelve. It was “The Distance” that roped me in. It was loud and intense and vaguely funny—it reminded me of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys. The whole album, Fashion Nugget, was wry like that—moody and scornful country rock with lyrics that ranged from playful (“I won’t be soothed over like smoothed over like milk”) to straightforward (“Shut the fuck up,” the title track repeats) to intimate (an extended bridge in “Italian Leather Sofa” about a golddigging housewife cutting some untold late-night snack with a serrated edge, then putting what she doesn’t want in a ziplock freezer bag—I didn’t know what serrated meant until this song.)

So defined is the sound of Fashion Nugget that Cake gobbles up Willie Nelson, a 1947 Cuban mega-hit, and, most notably, Gloria Gaynor—three covers—and they all come out sounding like nothing but Cake. To me then and now, Fashion Nugget is a cool album, playful and mysterious and surprising, with its own lyrical obsessions and musical tics.

One of those tics is singer John McCrae’s tendency to shout similar interjections at a song’s climax. I have a tradition with two friends who have never met each other (Matt H, meet Christy C) of peppering conversation with Cakeisms such as “awnah!” and “awyeah!” and “awright!” and “huh!”

Another tic was an unheard-of and maybe unhealthy passion for the vibraslap, the percussion instrument where you hit it once and it sounds like a rattlesnake.

But the tic they became best known for was McCrae’s talking/shouting voice. John McCrae is the rare singer who got famous for talking. If you played Cake for a non-fan, they probably couldn’t identify the band until you hit a song where he started talking. Whereas talk-singers like Stephen Malkmus will switch from chatting to note-hitting and back to chatting in a single line, McCrae is a compartmentalizer. He mostly sings until it’s time for one of his talky songs, usually only two per album. And it just so happens that in every original song on which Cake made its name (“The Distance,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” “Never There,” and “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle”), only “Never There” features any singing at all, and the singing is relegated to a one-line afterthought of a chorus.

I didn’t mind. I got pulled in by the talk-shout like everybody else. Their little-heard but very good first album, Motorcade of Generosity, features two talk-shout songs, one of which, “Mr. Mastodon Farm,” is about a man who must obsessively watch swooping mastodons to make sure they fly off before smacking into the ground “like small loaves of bread.” The lyrics are exciting for how little Cake is interested in helping the listener know what to make of them. “Heyyy-ooo,” go the backing vocals, and as the song fades out, McCrae allows a little meta-commentary, “And the band gets quieter, and the people get louder.” It’s an unassuming climax to a low-key record that is, like all the others, mostly full of sung songs. Motorcade is almost as good as its successor, lower on atmosphere but as high on song craft.

But then the tics turned to gimmicks. On the heels of two great records, guitarist Greg Brown (who wrote “The Distance”) and bass player Victor Damiani left, and Cake forever stopped sounding like a band that played in the same room together and began, with Prolonging the Magic, to sound like ProTools Himself, recording instruments one at a time in complete silence, every note just so. Gone was spontaneity, gone was a singular sound. Without much of what had made Cake sound like Cake, McCrae leaned too hard on the cards still in his deck: the trumpet solos, the awyeahs, the quirky lyrics, and the vibraslap. But these elements, now void of gritty guitar, atmosphere, or a lick of mystery, now felt pandering and calculated. I persisted in liking them, and not completely unfoundedly: “Sheep Go to Heaven” was a fun song, so was “Satan is My Motor,” and “Guitar” featured the line, “The way you treat me like the only slightly brings me down a lot,” so that was something.

Then came Comfort Eagle, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

The first track, “Opera Singer,” opens to a blipping electronic beat, bright guitar, and Cake’s trademark trumpet, and then McCrea begins to sing, “I am an opera singer,” which he proceeds to remind us a couple times each verse and chorus. On the surface, the song is a character study about a famous opera singer with a golden voice who has sung “for kings in Europe and emperors in Japan,” but whose “talent feeds [his] darker side” and turns him into a megalomaniac. But there’s no subtext here, just a series of candid self-assessments (pretty aware for a hyperdiva) punctuated always by the line, “I am an opera singer.” The opera singer is not a character inhabited, but a list of attributes (“stands on painted tape,” check, “rehearsals last for hours,” check) told in the first person. All that redeems the song are (1) there aren’t many pop songs told from the perspective of opera singers and (2) it’s pretty catchy.

The same could be said of the next three songs on Eagle, the best of which is the talky single, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” which again employs the first person list, but this time to better effect in an idiosyncratic “What I Want in a Woman” litany. “At Citybank, we will meet accidentally,” McCrae says, and then the band immediately shouts “meet accidentally!” The magic of backing vocals is that they can highlight the absurdity of a line just by repeating it. But like Prolonging’s “Never There,” this single also feels calculated and perfunctory. It was never not going to be the single. And the fact that it’s the album’s best song speaks to how Cake’s cool detachment had now detached a step further: the songs and their singer were checked out. After “Short Skirt,” though, the album completely falls to toothless anti-consumer crunch (“Comfort Eagle”), a forgot-the-vocals instrumental (“Arco Arena”), and headachey grocery-rock (“Love You Madly”).

Comfort Eagle completed Cake’s transformation from rabid-quirky country-tinged rockers to makers of quirky-quirky Pro Tools pop. And the less said about album #5, Pressure Chief, the better. It’s awful. One of those where on first spin, you realize  you’d been hanging on to a band that no longer exists. I gave up. A b-sides comp arrived a couple years later and it was no struggle to resist.

It’s for 1998 to present that Cake’s critical reputation is nonexistent, but if you go back and give those first two albums a shot, I’m vouching: They hold up. So here’s what we do: Let’s rope off Cake’s first two albums and admit that Fashion Nugget, in particular, is a classic. Let’s give them the Weezer treatment, loving the good and ignoring the rest, occasionally checking in on whatever else arrives just on the off-chance that Cake remembers what a band sounds like. Awyeah.

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